I was hanging the lining of Sarah's carseat to dry after the barfing episode and Katie wandered into the laundry room.
"So, I guess now that it's all clean and beautiful, you'll put it away until we have another baby? Sarah hates that carseat."
And the tears spring way too easily. I lean into the dryer even though there is nothing in there. I don't want her to see.
"No, we'll put it away until we find someone who needs it. My guess is that Mommy's too old to have another baby."
"That's ridiculous. We should adopt."
She skips away to discuss Haitian adoptions with Nicky, who would really rather adopt a boy his age than a baby.
I finish hanging the rest of the items from that offensive load; the Ergo is last to find a hanger. It smells so sweet now. We have at least one more season with my little one nestled against me in this carrier. I remember one of my favorite hugs ever, right around this time last year, when Sarah was asleep in the Ergo just after Paddy won the State Cup. She was sandwiched between us. Life was perfect that day: funny, interesting teenagers; utterly engaging middle kids; twirling, dancing toddlers; and a baby asleep on my chest. My dear husband utterly delirious to be in their company. One more season of the Ergo. I know that it is unlikely that I will give it away. It will end up in my hope chest with Michael's Peter Pan costume and Stephen's and Nicky's matching gecko shirts and Katie's crocheted bunny hat. All little pieces of fabric in the quilt of our lives.
Sarah's nearly 17 months old. She gets sick riding backwards. It's time to move on to a bigger carseat. What the heck? It's a carseat. Why do I care so much?
Because I know.
I've been here before. If I blink--if I dare to blink--the tears that fill my eyes will surely run down my face.
Remember this, from five years ago?
For the first time in a very long time, I am neither pregnant nor mothering a baby. My "baby" is now two years old. And with a certainty that takes my breath away, I suddenly understand why wise women always told me that the time would go so quickly. To be sure, I’ve had more "baby time" than most women. My first baby will be 16 in a few days. I still think it’s over much too soon.
This column is for mothers of infants and toddlers. I am going to attempt to do something I never thought I’d do: I’m going to empathize while not in your situation. My hope is that it is all so fresh in my memory that I can have both perspective and relevance.
What you are doing, what you are living, is very difficult. It is physically exhausting. It is emotionally and spiritually challenging. An infant is dependent on you for everything. It doesn’t get much more daunting: there is another human being who needs you for his very life. Your life is not your own at all. You must answer the call (the cry) of that baby, regardless of what you have planned. This is dying to self in a very pure sense of the phrase. And you want to be with him. You ache for him. When he is not with you, a certain sense of restlessness edges its way into your consciousness, and you are not at complete peace.
If you are so blessed that you have a toddler at the same time, you wrestle with your emotions. Your former baby seems so big and, as you settle to nurse your baby and enjoy some quiet gazing time, you try desperately to push away the feeling that the great, lumbering toddler barreling her way toward you is an intruder. Your gaze shifts to her eyes, and there you see the baby she was and still is, and you know that you are being stretched in ways you never could have imagined.
This all might be challenge enough if you could just hunker down in your own home and take care of your children for the next three years; but society requires that you go out — at least into the marketplace. So you juggle nap schedules and feeding schedules and snowsuits and carseats. Just an aside about carseats: I have literally had nightmares about installing carseats. These were not dreams that I had done it wrong or that there had been some tragedy. In my dreams I am simply exhausted, struggling with getting the thing latched into the seat of the car and then getting my baby latched into the carseat. I’m fairly certain anyone else who has ever had four of these mechanical challenges lined up in her van has had similar dreams. It’s the details that overwhelm you, drain you, distract you from the nobility of it all. The devil is in the details.
You will survive. And here is the promise: if you pray your way through this time, if you implore the Lord at every turn, if you ask Him to take this day and this time and help you to give Him something beautiful, you will grow in ways unimagined. And the day will come when no one is under two years old. You will — with no one on your lap — look at your children playing contentedly together without you. And you will sigh. Maybe, like me, you will feel your arms are uncomfortably empty, and you will pray that you can hold a baby just once more. Or maybe, you will sense that you are ready to pass with your children to the next stage.
This is the place where nearly two decades of mothering babies grants me the indulgence of sharing what I would have done differently. I would have had far fewer obligations outside my home. Now, I see that there is plenty of time for those, and that it is much simpler to pursue outside interests without a baby at my breast. I wish I’d spent a little more time just sitting with that baby instead of trying to "do it all."
I wish I’d quieted the voices telling me that my house had to look a certain way. I look around now and I recognize that those houses that have "that look" don’t have these children. Rarely are there a perfectly-kept house and a baby and a toddler under one roof. Don’t listen to the voices that tell you that it can be done. It should not be done. I wish I hadn’t spent 16 years apologizing for the mess. Just shoot for "good enough." Cling to lower standards and higher goals.
I wish I’d taken more pictures, shot more video and kept better journals. I console myself with the knowledge that my children have these columns to read. They’ll know at least as much about their childhoods as you do.
I wish I could have recognized that I would not be so tired forever, that I would not be standing in the shallow end of the pool every summer for the rest of my life, that I would not always have a baby in my bed (or my bath or my lap). If I could have seen how short this season is (even if mine was relatively long), I would have savored it all the more.
And I wish I had thanked Him more. I prayed so hard. I asked for help. But I didn’t thank Him nearly enough. I didn’t thank Him often enough for the sweet smell of a newborn, for the dimples around pudgy elbows and wrists, for the softening of my heart, for the stretching of my patience, for the paradoxical simplicity of it all. A baby is a pure, innocent, beautiful embodiment of love. And his mother has the distinct privilege, the unparalleled joy, of watching love grow. Don’t blink. You’ll miss it.